Late Term

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The Truth Behind 6 Old Wives' Tales About Late Babies

Remember, 40 weeks of pregnancy is an estimate, not a promise.

Practically as soon as the words "having a baby" come out of your mouth, you'll start hearing advice and stories about when to conceive, how to get the gender you want, what certain pregnancy symptoms mean, and more. As labor approaches, you'll even start hearing old wives' tales about late babies. If you're overdue and desperate to get things going, some of these wild remedies and theories may even start to sound plausible, but unfortunately, they're probably not.

For pretty much everything in life, there is someone who knows someone whose cousin's best friend's sister did something and ended up getting a certain result out of it. Somewhere along the way, random stories like these start to gain traction and get warped out of context like a bad game of telephone. Eventually, it seems like everyone has heard some variation of the story, which somehow adds authority to it, even if common sense would tell you otherwise. These stories are old wives' tales.

Old wives' tales are very present when it comes to trying to conceive, pregnancy, and labor/delivery. One woman had heartburn during pregnancy and went on to have a baby with lots of hair, and suddenly it's a rule. The reason these tales are so prevalent in pregnancy is that even though science can tell you so much about your growing baby, it's not at a point where it can accurately tell you your exact due date, what your baby will actually look like, or how long labor will last. Every pregnancy and birth story is different, which means moms-to-be rely on stories of other women's experiences to help them predict their own fate. If it's looking like you're going to have a late baby, you might be at the point where you'll believe any story you hear, no matter how outlandish it may seem. So, to save you some time and to ease your mind a bit, here are some common old wives' tales about late babies, as well as the actual science behind them.


First Babies Always Arrive Late

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This is a pretty common narrative that a lot of people swear by, however, while it may be the case for some people, it's definitely not true for everyone. Allen Downey, a professor at Olin College, looked at data trends and found that a firstborn is 15% more likely to be delivered late (after 40 weeks) but is also 12% more likely to be born early (before 37 weeks), so it's kind of a toss-up. What a first-time mom can expect, according to March of Dimes, is a longer "first stage" of labor, as it can last up to 19 hours as opposed to an average of 14 hours for subsequent pregnancies.


If You're Late Because Labor Is Taking Forever, It's A Boy

As a woman who endured labor for days with both of my kids, I can confidently say, just because you're in labor, it does not mean your baby is in a rush to get out. In fact, prolonged labor can technically mean you deliver your baby late, and old wives' tales say long labor means you're having a boy. While I can tell you this is not the rule, since both of my babies are female, there is some science to this one. A 2017 research study of 1,550 women found that the active labor stage in women carrying boys lasted longer than those carrying girls.


A Bumpy Car Ride Will Induce Labor

Look, once you get to that 40-week mark, you've been pregnant long enough. No one would blame you if you wanted to get the show on the road, but the literal 'road' isn't going to do you much good in this department. A common old wives' tale is that if your baby is late, riding in a car down a bumpy road will break your water and induce labor. Unfortunately, Texas A&M Health has debunked this one, saying, "there is no scientific evidence to support this myth."


The Moon Is The Culprit

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Your baby could be late because it's waiting on a full moon, if one old wives' tale is to be believed. Word is, more babies are supposedly born on nights with a full moon, and not by accident. If the moon is waning as your due date approaches, don't sweat it, because a four-year research study of more than 500,000 births proved this theory a myth. In fact, the moon has no effect whatsoever on baby and/or labor development, as the researchers said: "We found no significant differences in the frequency of births, route of delivery, births to multigravid women, or birth complications across the 8 phases of the moon or between documented high- and low-volume intervals of the lunar cycle."


Pineapple Will Get An Overdue Baby Out

Apparently, if you listen to old wives' tales, eating pineapple will help get that overdue baby of yours out, because the sweet fruit will "ripen" your cervix. If only it were that easy! OBGYN Elaine Duryea, M.D., explained in a University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center article that the core of a pineapple contains an enzyme that "breaks down the proteins in tissue and is what makes your tongue tingle or mouth develop sores when you eat pineapple." However, she says there is no evidence to support that the pineapple has this same effect on the cervix once you've eaten it, particularly because the acid in your stomach essentially deactivates the enzyme so your body isn't actually soaking it up.


Anything After 40 Weeks Is 'Late'

When you first get pregnant, you are told your baby needs about 40 weeks in your body to develop, so once you hit 40 weeks and 1 day, that baby should be ready to thrive in the world. Whether this is an old wives' tale or just a common misconception is unclear, but either way, your due date is simply an estimation. So if you go into labor at 41 weeks, that may not be a late baby at all, just an incorrect due date. Your due date is estimated based on your last menstrual cycle, but in an article for Evidence-Based Birth, Rebecca Dekker, RN, Ph.D., says this isn't always accurate. Women can have irregular periods, they may not ovulate on exactly the 14th day of their cycle, and they may not even remember the exact date their last menstrual cycle started. Instead, doctors tend to use ultrasounds as a better indicator of where a baby is in gestation, so your 41-week gestation baby may actually be a perfectly-perfect 40-week baby.

Old wives' tales are certainly fun, but they should be taken with a grain of salt (especially by hormonal moms-to-be who are really tired of being pregnant). Your late baby's temperament, gender, and entrance into the world are based entirely on biology, not the moon or a bumpy back road somewhere. So, if you're not-so-patiently waiting for your baby to arrive, put your swollen feet up, relax, and have some pineapple (not because it'll speed things up, just because it's delicious).